Matteo Storchi showed early on the desire to follow his own path. Instead of waiting for his parents to pass the business on to him, he and his cousins entered the business in 2017 – and bought Comer Industries, a gearmaker from Reggio Emilia. His desire now leads him to Germany: Comer has just taken over the Walterscheid Powertrain Group (WPG). The company in Lohmar, near Cologne, has 2,200 employees, far more than the Italian family business. The merger creates one of the world’s largest mechanical engineering groups for agriculture with a turnover of 792 million euros. “We are breaking down barriers to build together something bigger: a European champion for the growing global market,” says company boss, 46, Storchi. On the Milan Stock Exchange, the Comer share price climbed 20.6%. Walterscheid executives also had the pleasure of welcoming the buyer with a greeting in Italian.
And entrepreneur Stochi doesn’t grow alone. Italy is back. In the business. In Europe. From the mood hole.
Five months after Mario Draghi took office, long-lost confidence is growing. The Silent Reconstructor is leading the country, which has been particularly hard hit by the Corona crisis, into the post-pandemic era in much better shape than expected. The European Commission has just raised its growth forecast for Italy from 4.2% to 5.0%. Italian exports are growing faster than German exports. The Roman statistical office Istat assesses Italy’s economic outlook as “particularly favorable”. Not to be underestimated: the normalization of populists in the Roman parliament is progressing rapidly under Draghi.
“Draghi created a completely different perception of Italy abroad.”
This is also noticeable in Europe. The eternal light from the bottom of the EU has become a driving force. The country, which in 2018 had gone from a populist government through very dangerous debt plans, Italexit fantasies and flirting with autocrats in Moscow and Beijing to a wandering outsider of the European Union, now occupies a leading position under the former head of the ECB in Brussels.
“Mario Draghi created a completely different perception of Italy abroad,” explains entrepreneur Storchi. During the buyout negotiations in recent months, the boss of Comer had to deal with the American fund One Equity Partners, owner of Walterscheid since 2019, and the North Rhine-Westphalian company founded in 1919. In doing so, he clearly felt the gain of notoriety of his country.
It was probably also surprising what Finance Minister Daniele Franco experienced last Monday. When the Italian wanted to speak at the Eurogroup meeting in Brussels, his colleagues were thrown from their chairs to prolonged applause. It was some time before the otherwise stiff assembly came to a halt after the jubilation over the Azzurri’s triumph in the European Championship final against England. That the European title reflects a “broad renaissance” in Italy, as the New York Times wrote, seems to be a widely held opinion.
Even the populists have been tamed: Salvini no longer scolds, the five stars want to be competent
Meanwhile, Draghi surprisingly quietly liberates the crisis-stricken country of Europe from the legacy of the populist government of Five Stars and Lega, the winners of the 2018 election. Both parties still have a parliamentary majority in Rome and have entered the coalition of national unity last February. There, however, they stripped themselves of their anti-system identity. The boss of the Lega Matteo Salvini has converted to Europe. The right-wing extremist no longer propagates an exit from the EU or a referendum against the euro. He no longer scolds that he feels more at ease in Moscow than in Brussels.
The divided and leaderless five-star party gave up its dogmatic dilettantism and discovered the usefulness of competence. She has renounced hate campaigns against the establishment in politics and business. At the cabinet table, his four ministers said goodbye to their previous identity claims and voted for a late judicial reform, the adoption of which is a key condition for receiving the 190 billion euros from the European Reconstruction Fund.
In foreign policy, Draghi has personally established contacts with the most important international partners in Europe and Washington. He calmed down around Foreign Minister Luigi Di Maio, formerly a permanent star of Roman politics and spokesperson for the populists. His passion for China has also died out. In March 2019, the then Roman government signed a contract for Italy to participate – as the only member of the G-7 – in China’s gigantic “New Silk Road” project. The 29 bilateral agreements are now considered on a case-by-case basis. In April, Draghi had already banned the sale of a northern Italian semiconductor maker to a Chinese holding company. The agricultural and construction machinery group CNH broke off negotiations with FAW Jiefang over the sale of a subsidiary. Today, Rome is currently considering a takeover offer from Chinese state-owned Syngenta for seed maker Verisem.
The first 25 billion euros from the EU reconstruction fund will arrive shortly. They should provide a boost to the long-awaited investment. “Italy has gone through difficult times and they are probably not over yet,” says mechanical engineer Storchi. But it is in the nature of Italians not to despair so easily. “We have the ability to get up quickly after an accident.”